Proper Golf

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: Winged Foot West

Winged Foot Golf Club
West Course
Arch: A.W. Tillinghast, 1923
Mamaroneck, New York
(All yardage book photo's come from
actual 2002 PGA Championship Book.
Photos from Tillinghast books, The
Course Beautiful and Gleanings from
the Wayside)

Tillinghast's originial routing remains mostly unchanged

Winged Foot Golf Club was founded by a group of members of the famous New York Athletic Club. The NYAC demanded that C.C. Nobles and other members immediately halt all plans to continue with the building of a golf facility, or they would be kicked out of the club. Nobles, who would become the first club president, ignored their requests, hired A.W. Tillinghast to build the infamous 36-hole "Man-Sized Golf Course", and stole the NYAC logo... The Winged Foot.

The Tudor style clubhouse of Winged Foot behind the well guarded #9

The West Course has been home to five US Opens, the most recent where Geoff Ogilvy of Australia was named the national champion after Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington, Phil Mickleson, and Collin Montgomery all had opportunities to take it in front of him. Winged Foot prides itself on having to make virtually no changes to the course from its regular setup in order to host tournaments of any caliber, much like Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh. While some of todays best architects will tell you that the course could be improved by the changing of some of their maintenance practices, the members of Winged Foot Golf Club for the most part could care less.

Note all the National Opens the East Course has also held over the years

After a huge tree removal program that received great acclaim, Winged Foot's West Course looks rather tame from virtually every tee. Obviously you have a narrow fairway to hit, but in general the target is rather simply laid out in front of you, and without a huge amount of hazards off the tee. The idea that if you do not hit it long and straight here you will not be reaching in regulation is simply understood. Don't be fooled by the relatively straightforward tee shots, Winged Foot is first and foremost a second shot golf course. Tillinghast has shaped some of the boldest greens and approaches to only accept the most precise and accurate long range shots any golfer could imagine. While there are certainly optimal sides of the fairway to choose from, and large putting surfaces to aim for, when greens are missed, players most certainly play lofted pitch shots for their third shot, rather than a putt or running shot. This is stereotypical Westchester Country golf on steroids!

#1 on the West has one of the devilishly contoured greens in the world. Split into
4 different sections (one in front and 3 vertical sections on top) this back/front
sloped green must be played from bellow the hole

The tone for any round at Winged Foot West is immediately set by the first hole. Tillinghast, who loved to name his golf holes, called this open par-4 "Genesis". Ideally played up the right side of the fairway, this shot has become more difficult over the years with the driving range that runs parallel to the right rough and marked by out of bounds stakes. If you have enough distance to get home in two shots, leaving your approach with an uphill putt is a must, otherwise your round will most likely begin over par. In the 2006 US Open, the two hardest holes compared to par were #18, and #1. If this hole isn't the most fitting opening statement of what lies ahead, you clearly do not understand what this golf course is all about.

Scorecard, inside with hole names.

As you work your way towards the Northwest corner of the property by Griffen Ave one of the architectural highlights would have to be the green at #2. With one of the giant Elm Trees that Winged Foot is known for hanging over the green, the chances that this hole would ever be constructed in the modern age are slim to none. Also the length of the par-3 #3 and wild contours on the very difficult to hold #5 are needing of mention, but the best moments of the front 9 on the West Course come on #6 tee and at the short par-3 #7.

Note all the lines I've drawn trying to capture the difficult slopes of #6

#6 is the shortest par-4 on the course, and sometimes drivable by the longest players. With an extremely narrow entrance and a green contoured to accept only the most highly lofted shots, it is rare to see a drive stay on this green. When drives miss by falling short in the thick rough surrounding the bunkers and green, the golfer is subjecting himself to nearly impossible flop-shot recoveries and thinned balls running through the green. Others chose to try to attack the green with a full short iron or wedge from back in the fairway by playing a long iron or shorter wood left off the tee, just short of the fairway bunker. This strategy seems be the choice of most, for it generally takes the larger numbers out of play. #6 seems so harmless on the tee golfers often attempt to get too much out of this hole because the severity of the green is masked by the green-side bunkers from the tee, giving the greatest advantage to the thoughtful player.

Next is the hole called "Innocent Babe in the Woods". The short par-3 is anything but innocent. Pushed up well above the surrounding flat ground and guarded by two extremely steep faced bunkers, the main defense for #7 is the severe false-front to the small, steeply sloped green. If your ball catches the slope and is brought back all the way down to ground level in the fairway, tight and difficult lies await you in the sea of scrapes created by thousands that have come up short before you.

The central knob on #9 green is a simple yet extremely difficult
defense to those who approach in two shots or three

Sometimes converted to a par-4 in championship play, #9 would fit right in with the stereotypical domed greens of Pinehurst #2, and offers wonderful variety to the aggressive contours which litter all 36 of Winged Foot's greens. What makes this hole so great is the effect the centrally located knob Tillinghast built into the middle of the green that extends all the way back to the tee. The only chance one has to get the ball close to the hole is by approaching one of the biggest putting surfaces on the course from the left. The extensive shaping efforts to build up the back side of the green should also be noted as #9 buts up against the clubhouse and #18 on the East Course; Winged Foot is a classroom for push-up green design.

A Golfmeister rendering of #10 - "Puppit"

A quick walk past the clubhouse brings you to the start of the back 9, and what is easily one of the best par-3's in the world, #10 - "Pulpit". Measuring 190 yards and with the backdrop of an enormous Westchester Country Estate, #10 is always the hole I look forward to the most. Tillinghast provides plenty of fairway for bouncing approaches, lay-ups and chipping area, but do not be fooled by all the short grass, no golfer is assured a safe route onto this putting surface. It is not uncommon for golfers to putt off this green, or hit from bunker to bunker, and any ball long of this green is dead. With eighteen of the most challenging approach shots in golf, #10 at Winged Foot West may be the greatest inland long iron approach in the world.

The rest of the course stretches back along the South side of the property to Griffen Ave, before turning back for #16-18. Holes #11, 14 and 15 certainly have the most interesting drives on the course. This section of the course plays through the most naturally interesting part of the property, Tillinghast took advantage and devised some of the best driving hazards on the course using the larger ground contours. #15, is remarkably similar to #15 at neighboring Quaker Ridge Golf Club, a more understated world class Tillinghast design no more than a pitching wedge across Griffen Ave from green-to-tee.

The enormous false front claiming any iron
not perfectly struck on #18

The final three hole stretch #16-18 all have three things in common, the trees act as major hazards on the left. Phil Mickleson made the dog-leg left #18 famous forever, but there are more unique design factors that go into #18. For the first time on the course Tillinghast chooses to guard with bunkers on only one side of the green, leaving a steep hillside to guard the right side of #18. With Tillinghast deciding that the right side wasn't in need of a bunker, its only fair to assume that any ball missing to the right of this green is bound to find a worse lie on the cut down hillside than in any other bunker on the course. The club most golfers play in for their approach shot is dramatically different from the long iron Tillinghast intended, but #18 still claimed the highest stroke average compared to par in the most recent Open.

Bobby Jones #18 1929 US Open playoff victory

Overall Winged Foot West has clearly made its case amongst the best in the world, however I feel the par-5's are exactly world class. While the par-3's certainly make up for most of the long holes shortcomings, the maintenance practices the club employs and unassuming tee shots keep the West Course out of the 10's, A+'s or what I call the top-15 in the world, but not my much. Apparently Gil Hanse has been approached about becoming the architectural consultant for the club, this could lead to a change in the previous statements.

1 comment:

  1. Nice page, and I ask a favor, do you have the other green layouts somewhere that I can access them? I am recreating Winged Foot west for a golf game, and I could sure use these to help build the most accurate course possible. You will be credited as well. You can reach me at if you would be willing to help.